Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Melissa Hugel

We caught up with writer and performer Melissa Hugel, one of our most awesome Skyground regulars. You can catch Melissa at our next show Passing the Dame on Friday 6th June at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. In the meantime, let’s pick her brain about writing, performing and the literary scene in Edinburgh.

Right! First off let’s do the basics. Who are you, what are you, where Captureare you and how are you?

I am Melissa Hugel. I am (allegedly) a writer, who actually makes money during the day in marketing. I am A Canadian transplant, originally hailing from outside Toronto (I stress the outside part as I have nothing to do with Rob ford). I now live in Edinburgh. I am doing marginally well at the moment, only because I am doing this interview from my aforementioned marketing job.

Oh, and why are you?

Oooh, the tough one. Well I’ll say why not? Let you mull that one over.

Can you remember the first thing you wrote?

I’m not sure whether it was the very first thing I wrote, but I do remember one of my first stories for primary school. It was about my sister’s best friend at the time (I won’t say his name to protect his privacy obviously). It was a fairy tale about a prince, but it was called All Looks No Brains. It was quite obviously a cutting satire on the superficial nature of people – or more likely I liked taking the piss out of this particular friend of my sister’s. The best part is I’m pretty sure I still have it (back home in Canada of course). It’s illustrated and absolutely the best work thing ever.

What do you think you get out of performing stories that you don’t get from just reading them?

Performing live you get instant feedback, which can be good or bad. But I especially love being able to know when a joke has worked. Hearing the audience laugh at something I’ve written (and was intentionally funny) is an experience you just can’t get writing for the page. As an author, you’re also allowed a little more control over the story when you read it live because you control the tone and voice. Less room for misinterpretation in my view.

What do you think of the Edinburgh literary scene? What would you change if you could?

One of the reasons I came back to Edinburgh after uni was the literary scene. It is such a tight knit community, yet it’s also very diverse. I love that there is a strong emphasis on things like spoken word, genre fiction, and truly thinking outside the proverbial box (groups like illicit Ink who encourage experimentation in a public forum). It’s also such a friendly scene. As someone who’s relatively new to writing professionally, it’s always daunting to try and get involved but everyone in Edinburgh is so keen to work together, it’s been great. I think though there is a tendency to stick with what you know,which I am guilty of it myself. I would love to see more writers in Edinburgh supporting groups and gigs they’re not necessarily involved with.

What’re you working on at the moment?

Ah yes, my current work. I am writing that elusive first novel at the moment. As any good writer, I won’t get into too much detail until it’s actually done, but I will say it’s a feminist take on the organised crime thriller. I call it a cross between The Departed and The Godfather, with a woman (basically looking to subvert gender roles but I still want to make it appealing to everyone). It’s a tough task and I’m on what I call my second first draft, so that should tell you where I’m at in terms of the overwhelming stress and anxiety.

You can follow Melissa on Twitter @mellyhugs, and don’t forget to come see her at Skyground alongside comedians and writers Sian Bevan, Keir McAllister, Tom Moore, Gordon Christie, Jennifer Bryce and David Marsland.

Interview with Lynsey May

Lynsey May is an Edinburgh based writer and is simply smashing. She’s a familiar face at Illicit Ink LynseyMay-Chris Scott SQUAREand was awarded a New Writers Award last year. She’ll be one of our performers at Illicit Ink Underground: Toy Stories on 1st of December, so we figured this would be as good a time as any to sit down and have a chat.

1. Right! First off let’s do the basics – who are you, what are you, where are you and how are you?

I’m Lynsey, I hope I qualify as a person, I’m wrapped up at home trying to make myself work and I’m just peachy, thanks for asking.


2. Oh, and why are you?

This question should come with some kind of warning. Why am I? Why am I? Why am I the am that I am? Because no one told me I couldn’t be.


3. Can you remember the first thing you wrote?

I can’t remember the very first thing, but I do remember my first real written project. I made myself a folder out of a big bit of brown cardboard and wrote something like ‘Undelivered Post’ on the front. I then wrote a selection of letters including at least one missed romantic connection and one never received acceptance letter for a novel. There were also several Christmas cards, I think. I’m pretty sure it was inspired by the child-sized Postman Pat van that lived at my grandma’s house.


4. You work as a copywriter. Do you think all that corporate writing affects your fiction?

It must do, to some extent. I started at an agency straight after graduating and, to be honest, I think writing a large amount of copy actually contributed to boosting my confidence a little. It also helped me increase my typing speed and (marginally) improved my atrocious spelling. On the downside, I do often worry that it has a negative impact too – especially now that I freelance and a huge amount of my time is spent writing copy. It’s very easy to slip into a corporate or faux editorial style and I very much hope that doesn’t unintentionally make it into any of my stories.


5. What do you think you get out of performing stories that you don’t get from just reading them?

As a reader, I love it for the instant feedback (more so when it’s not bad!), and the buzz of doing something you’re a bit scared of. As a listener, I much prefer it when I hear stories that have been written to be read aloud or stories where the performer knows how to add a little extra something – be it a silly voice or an extra beat of silence during a tense moment.


6. What do you think of the Edinburgh literary scene? What would you change if you could?

I really like the scene we have going here. It’s so much friendlier than I thought it would be and I wish I’d realised and joined in a little sooner. I’d love for there to be a few more great venues. The ones we have do a good job, but I reckon there are too few suitable, atmospheric and affordable venues for musicians and performers – especially in a place like Edinburgh.


7.  What’re you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished a novel – it’s called The Miraculous Return of Flora Whyte and is the story of a small coastal town reeling at the possibility that Flora is their own teenaged saint – and my head is still pretty much mince. Am hoping to claw back some sanity and get stuck into something new very soon.


8.  Finally, what’s your favourite toy?

I don’t have my favourite toy any more as it went through the hands of both of my little brothers and finally disintegrated. But it was a big, pink flumpy thing called a Puffalump. It was great.


Come and see Lynsey perform at Toy Stories at the Bongo Club on 1st of December! And be sure to check out her eye-gougingly pretty website and follow her on Twitter. Seriously. It’s the least you could do.

Interview – Rachel McCrum

Rachel McCrum is an award winning poet and performer originally from a small seaside town called Donaghadee in Northern Ireland. She currently lives and works in Edinburgh where she is the Broad half of the sensational cabaret duo Rally and Broad, who run a monthly night of words, music and lyrical delights. She’s also to be found popping up at all number of spoken word events including the upcoming Apocalypse New at Illicit Ink Skyground on 1st November.

We caught up with her for a chat…

Thanks for coming along! Let’s start off with the basics, shall we? Who are you, why are you, where are you and how are you?

I’m propped up in my bed on a crisp Saturday morning with a small bucket of Earl Grey (with milk, because I am uncouth) and the window open to the world. The bedsheets are clean and the morning is fine. Frankly, I’m glorious.

Oh, and when are you?

Today, always today.

(that’s not my line)

Tell us a little bit about Rally & Broad. How did the whole thing come about?

Jenny Lindsay and I knew each other from literary type events around Edinburgh. Actually, we bonded in 2011 August of Madness that was the last month of the Forest Cafe in Bristo Place. We (my darling Forest) were about to lose the building, and it was crackling with apocalyptic electricity – every corner full of gigs and people and mentalness. Jenny and I were hanging out there quite a lot, and were having a competition to see how our Festival bellies were coming along. You tend to develop a really weird physique in Edinburgh in August (well, I do), wherein your arms and legs get really skinny from a month of running around but you get a bit of a belly from all the beer. I think the plan was for her to birth angry Scottish gnomes, and for me to birth drunken Irish leprechauns, and then they were going to have a fight.

Then we decided it would be easier just to put on a beautiful, spiky, mixed artform cabaret every month.

What do you think makes you want to write?

In part, it’s how I process and respond to things. I’m not great with clarity of communication – I tend to be quite a chaotic talker and thinker, and I’m not good at expressing what I think in other ways. I find writing academically, journalistically etc, difficult. It takes me forever to put together an article (or answer this!), but writing a poem or a piece of prose, some freedom of creativity – that’s a joy.

The way we respond to the world around us, make sense of it in our way, and make that response and that sense public, and therefore, in its turn, part of the world, a communication to it – that makes us human, I think. Whether you do that through a painting or a play or a song or a scientific theory or a piece of  analytical journalism or a blog or incredibly detailed, thorough, Facebook updates – we’re all analysing and critiquing and making up and responding. Poetry is just another way of doing this.

And also – I love language. I just love it. Putting two words together, and then trying out two different words, the difference of effect, the power that can have. The sheer physical power of it. Who wouldn’t write?

What do you like about performing stories and poems that you don’t get from just reading them?

Adrenaline. ‘WHAT IF I FORGET THE WORDS OR BURP OR FART OR VOMIT OR JUST FORGET HOW MY LIMBS WORK AND FALL OVER ON STAGE IN FRONT OF PEOPLE OH GOD WHAT IF I DO?’ These risks all seem very real just before I go on stage. That I manage to get through any performance without having inadvertently lost control of all bodily functions in front of a roomful of people is a constant miracle to me. The buzz afterwards is phenomenal. I should probably seek help for this unwholesome addiction.

What do you think marks out really good writing? What marks out really bad writing?

Good – honesty, no matter how grim or complex that makes it.  A sense of humour, somewhere. An individual conscience.

Bad – self indulgence. It really pisses me off when a writer is serving themself over anything else. I’m not a fan of false humility either.

Any tips for any nervous writers who’ve never performed before?

  1. Breathe.
  1. Practice – take a walk up Blackford Hill and mutter away to yourself. I might see you up there. I will also be muttering. We can nod, knowingly to one another.
  1. Be aware of how you’re standing. Are you on the balls of your feet or the   heels? Play with that – work out how it makes you move on a stage.
  1. Don’t apologise for what you’re about to read. You made the decision to get up there and try it out – just present it to the audience with some grace, even if you’re not sure about it.
  1. And more than anything, think about your audience. Concentrate on putting them at their ease, making them believe you know what you’re doing. They’re doing you the favour of listening.

Which of your skills do you think would be most handy in the apocalypse?

I’m pretty loud. Also, I can drive, sail, ride a horse, and gut a sheep.

And last but not least, anything upcoming you’d like to plug?

Rally & Broad, third Friday of every month, the Counting House, Edinburgh!

And actually, the entire Edinburgh spoken word scene. It’s bloody marvellous. This city is rich with it – Inky Fingers, Blind Poetics, Neu Reekie, Soapbox, Speakeasy, Caesura, Illicit Ink (that’s us!), events at the Scottish Poetry Library, National Library…go to them all. Right now. It’s all there for you.

Be sure to come see Rachel performing at Apocalypse New at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 1st November! And don’t forget to follow Rally and Broad on Twitter.